The Gleaner
Agriculture

Egg-handling upgrades increase productivity at Les Fermes Valens

Huntingdon’s Les Fermes Valens is known for its organic and free-range eggs. Recent upgrades to the grading system have allowed the locally managed business to increase both the capacity and productivity of its egg division.

In February, the federal minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lawrence MacAulay, announced the Canadian government had invested up to $89 million in 49 projects across the country through the Supply Management Processing Investment Fund. Les Fermes Valens was among 13 agricultural businesses in Quebec to benefit from the program, with an investment of $67,000 to install new grading equipment for its egg-processing activities.

The fund plays a key role in the Canadian government’s commitment to supporting processors in supply-managed sectors, such as eggs, so they are better able to address the impacts of recent international trade agreements.

“With this funding, dairy, poultry, and egg processors will be able to modernize their operations so they can continue providing Canadian families with high-quality products while supporting small, rural communities across the country,” said MacAulay, who made the announcement from the Lactalis Canada cheese factory in Ingleside, Ontario.

Mark Hubert, the president and CEO of the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council, noted how “New investments in equipment and technology will facilitate companies’ efforts to increase productivity and efficiency and enable Canadian poultry and egg processors to undertake valuable and leading-edge modernization projects.”

At Les Fermes Valens, egg grading was once a lengthy job. “It is a complex process,” said general manager Markus Ritter, who is one of three founding farmers behind the business. He explained that because eggs are a relatively affordable and versatile source of protein, people buy a lot of them. Two years ago, the business invested in a new sorting machine that was delivered and installed by a company from Brazil. They saw their output double almost overnight.

According to Ritter, the machine will allow them to process up to 100,000 eggs per day; however, the company is currently grading around 75,000 eggs per day on two days each week.

 

Bonnie Chapman has worked in the egg grading division at Les Fermes Valens in Huntingdon for the past few years She says it used to take much longer to grade the eggs before they installed a new sorting machine two years ago Now the company only spends two days per week grading eggs PHOTO Sarah Rennie

 

The eggs are sourced mainly from Ritters organic farm in Elgin, where he and his wife Catherine have over 12,000 laying hens. “We opted for a closed-circuit scenario to ensure that we can continue producing,” said Ritter. The risks associated with the spread of avian flu across Quebec and within the region forced the company to take a step back from accepting eggs from small local producers.

Once the eggs arrive at the sorting facility, they are washed and sanitized with a high-pH peroxide mixture to kill any bacteria before they are dried. The eggs then move to the candling station where they are thoroughly inspected.

The funds Les Fermes Valens received from the Supply Management Processing Investment Fund were invested in an acoustic crack detector that serves as a secondary check after the candling process. The device emits a sound and measures the vibrations coming off the egg to determine whether there are any tiny cracks or imperfections.

From there, the eggs are graded, weighed, and separated according to their size. They are then numbered with a code that includes the date they were collected and the barn in which they were produced. The machine then deposits the clean and inspected eggs into the carton, which is also coded.

The eggs, as well as the farm’s various cuts and processed meats, are sold to IGA and independent grocery stores in Montreal and surrounding areas. Ritter says the website and their online orders have really mushroomed since the pandemic. They now always have four trucks on the road and production is steady in the factory.

Overall, the business now includes 34 employees between the meat, eggs, delivery, and accounting divisions. It takes just four employees to run the egg-grading machine, and Ritter says most workers are doing multiple jobs.

According to Ritter, Les Fermes Valens – now in its 19th year – will continue to innovate to find new ways of modernizing the business, all while holding true to the sustainable values that remain at the heart of the organization.

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